Big Data does not equal Big Brother

Jodie Sangster

Jodie Sangster has been the CEO of the Association for Data-driven Marketing and Advertising (ADMA) since 2011 and is also chairperson for the International Federation of Direct Marketing Associations (IFDMA). She has worked across the US, Europe and Asia-Pacific for 14 years with a focus on data-driven marketing and privacy, and began her career as a lawyer in London specialising in data protection. Her resume includes senior positions at Acxiom Asia-Pacific and the Direct Marketing Association in New York.

Big Data: A term used by marketers on an almost daily basis, and one no-one seems able to define. Ask five CMOs what Big Data means, and the benefits it presents for business, and you’ll get five different answers.

However, there is a good reason for this.

Big Data simply refers to large volumes of varied information (online and offline). The uses that can be made of this data are far and wide – it can be used to understand our environment, medicine, science, business and human experience. Big Data has the ability to change our world – to predict disasters; to change economies; make medical breakthroughs and find solutions to world challenges.

For marketers, Big Data provides the opportunity to better understand customer preferences, habits and considerations in entering into transactions. The successful use of Big Data in marketing leads to improved customer experience, a better exchange of value between customers and organisations, and ultimately improved business performance.

But read the media commentary and you would think Big Data refers to the practice of surreptitiously tracking people online to target future marketing and advertising. No wonder the market’s perception isn’t all positive.

This thinking needs to change. For you as a CMO, Big Data is invaluable and if it continues to be misunderstood it threatens to stifle the ability to use Big Data before you have had the chance to benefit from its potential.

Most consumers don’t have a broad understanding of how Big Data is used and its benefits. Fuelled by the media, we are led to believe that data (big or not) is synonymous with Big Brother. Such consumer concern can lead to increased government intervention, which invariably means restrictions that stifle innovation and your ability to personalise the customer experience.

So what can we do?

Firstly, as a CMO you need to put the customer front and centre. You need to consider how your use of data will be received by the consumer. What may seem like being helpful, clever, or relevant can be considered by a consumer to be ‘creepy’ – which will never lead to more engagement and is more likely to instead result in an opt out.

The answer lies in transparency and being clear with the consumer about what is going to happen with information, providing updates as uses change and allowing customer choice whether or not to proceed on that basis. Why? Because the future of Big Data depends upon the consumer being comfortable with what you know and how you use that information.

Thankfully help is at hand. Soon, ADMA will be releasing a Business Guide to Big Data that will not only be a guide to maximising the potential of Big Data, but will also provide a step-by-step guide to getting started and an outline of best practices that balance commercial needs with consumer protection. A win-win for all.

Tags: ADMA, data and analysis, customer insights

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